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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Francis Galton   14 November [1879]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.

Nov. 14th

My dear Galton

I have answered the questions, as well as I could, but they are miserably answered, for I have never tried looking into my own mind.—2 Unless others answer very much better than I can do, you will get no good from your queries.— Do you not think that you ought to have age of the answerer? I think so, because I can call up faces of many school-boys, not seen for 60 years with much distinctness, but now-a-days I may talk with a man for an hour, & see him several times consecutively, & after a month, I am utterly unable to recollect what he is at all like.— The picture is quite washed out.3

I am extremely glad that you approve of the little life of our grandfather; for I have been repenting that I ever undertook it as work quite beyond my tether. The first set of proof-sheets was a good deal fuller, but I followed my family’s advice & struck out much.—4

Ever yours very truly | Charles Darwin




The object of these Questions is to elicit the degree and manner in which different persons possess the power of seeing images in their mind’s eye.

From inquiries I have already made, it is certain that remarkable variations exist both in the strength and in the quality of this faculty, and it is highly probable that a statistical inquiry into them will throw light upon more than one psychological problem.

Before answering Questions 1 to 5 (see the Schedule on the back of this page), think of some definite object—say your breakfast-table, as you sat down to it this morning—and consider carefully the picture that rises before your mind’s eye. 1. Illumination.—Is the image dim, or fairly clear? Is its brightness comparable to that of the actual scene? 2. Definition.—Are the objects sharply defined, or are any or most of them little more than blotches of light and shade? 3. Completeness.—Are all the details of the breakfast-table seen with equal clearness, like a real scene, or do some parts obtrude themselves while others are barely visualised? 4. Colouring.—Are the colours of the china, of the toast, bread crust, mustard, meat, parsley, or whatever may have been on the table, quite distinct and natural? 5. Extent of field of view.—Does it correspond in breadth and height to the real field of view?

The Questions 6 to 16 refer to definite kinds of mental imagery. 6. Printed pages.—When recalling passages in a book, is the actual print clearly conspicuous? How much of a page can you mentally see and retain steadily in view? 7. Furniture.—Can you judge with precision of the effect that would be produced upon the appearance of a room by changing the position of the furniture in it? Could you rely on your judgment in purchasing furniture that should prove suitable in size, shape and colour? Can you carry in your mind’s eye the colour and pattern of your wall-paper and of your carpets? 8. Persons.—Can you recall with distinctness the features of persons whom you know well? Can you at will cause your mental image of them to change position, as to sit, stand, or turn slowly round? Can you deliberately seat the image of a well-known person in a chair and retain it, and see it with enough distinctness to enable you to sketch it leisurely (supposing yourself able to draw)? 9. Scenery.—Do you preserve the recollection of scenery with much precision of detail, and do you find pleasure in dwelling on it? Can you easily follow the descriptions of scenery that are so frequently met with in novels and books of travel? 10. Geography.—Do you readily follow the geographical descriptions in ordinary newspaper letters from foreign correspondents. 11. Military movements.—Can you realise the changing position of troops, as though you actually saw them on the march, when reading the description of battles or of manœuvres? 12. Mechanism.—Can you visualise any machinery at work? If you are a mechanician, describe one of the most complicated machines that you can clearly and completely imagine? 13. Geometry.—If you have experience in this, state fully your power of visualising plane and solid figures. 14. Numerals.—Are any mental figures associated in your mind with the various numerals? that is to say, if the words “fifty-six” be spoken, do you mentally see those figures in any shape or not? Can you picture to yourself many lines of figures and hold them fast in the mental field of view, and peruse them when there. (If you happen to have decided powers of mental arithmetic, describe your process and mention the most you can do.) If you are a mathematician, how far do you visualise your formulæ? 15. Card-playing.—Have you a good recollection of the cards that are out, and how far does your recollection consist of a mental image of them. 16. Chess.—Can you foresee far ahead the effects of a contemplated move? If so, is it by means of a mental image of the board? (If you happen to be able to play chess blindfold, please describe fully the limits of your powers.)

As regards the other senses—17, Tones of voices, and 18, Music—explain themselves. 19. Smells.—Think of tar, verbena, otto of rose, shoe blacking, chloroform, ditch water, hay, seaweed, jessamine, turpentine, a fur coat, &c., and consider whether in any or all of these cases your representation of the smell is vivid, and how far it may compare in vividness to that of the objects you visualise. 20. Tastes.—Proceed on a similar principle as regards these, with salt, sugar, lemon juice, currant jelly, castor oil, raisins, mustard, ink, Epsom salts, blackberries, &c.

Any further information as to your visualising powers will be acceptable.

F. G.


For explanations, see the other side of this paper.5

The replies will be used for statistical purposes only, and should be addressed to—



1. Illumination Moderate, but my solitary breakfast was early & morning dark.

2. Definition Some objects quite defined, a slice of cold beef, some grapes & a pear   the state of my plate when I had finished & a few other objects are as distinct as if I had photos before me

3. Completeness very moderately so.

4. Colouring The objects above-named perfectly coloured

5. Extent of field of view Rather small

Different kinds of Imagery.

6. Printed pages I cannot remember a single sentence, but I remember the place of the sentence & the kind of type

7. Furniture I have never attended to it

8. Persons I remember the faces of persons formerly well-known vividly, & can make them do any thing I like.

9. Scenery Remembrance vivid & distinct & gives me pleasure.

10. Geography No

11. Military movements No

12. Mechanism Never tried

13. Geometry I do not think I have any power of the kind

14. Numerals When I think of any number, printed figures rise before my mind; I can’t remember for an hour 4 consecutive figures

15. Card-playing Have not played for many years, but I am sure should not remember

16. Chess Never played

Other Senses.

17. Tones of voices recollection indistinct, not comparable with vision

18. Music extremely hazy—

19. Smells No power of vivid recollection, yet sometimes call up associated ideas

20. Tastes No vivid power of recalling—

Signature of Sender and Charles Darwin

Address Down Beckenham

(Born Feb. 12th 1809)


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Francis Galton, 12 November 1879.
Galton had sent the list of ‘Questions on the faculty of visualising’ (see enclosure) with his letter of 12 November 1879.
Galton published the results of his survey in the article ‘Statistics of mental imagery’ (Galton 1880). He compared the answers of 100 adult men, most of whom were ‘persons of distinction in various kinds of intellectual work’, with those of 172 schoolboys (ibid., pp. 304, 310).
Galton had praised CD’s preliminary notice for Erasmus Darwin in his letter of 12 November 1879. Henrietta Emma Litchfield had suggested substantial cuts to CD’s manuscript (see letter to Reginald Darwin, 4 April 1879, n. 3, and King-Hele ed. 2003, pp. ix, xvii–xviii).
CD’s replies are on the verso of the printed instructions.


Galton, Francis. 1880a. Statistics of mental imagery. Mind 5: 301–18.

King-Hele, Desmond, ed. 2003. Charles Darwin’s ‘The Life of Erasmus Darwin’. First unabridged edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Returns completed questionnaire concerning visualising faculty [see LL 3: 177–9]. Thinks age important. Recalls faces of school friends but cannot remember those of people recently met.

Comments on his part [of Erasmus Darwin].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Francis Galton
Sent from
Source of text
UCL Library Services, Special Collections (GALTON/1/1/9/5/7/28)
Physical description
ALS 3pp, encl 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12317,” accessed on 1 October 2022,